Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Visitation from St Hip

Latest Home Truths column for The Australian. In this bumper Xmas edition, it's a very hipster Christmas .... Original in the paper is here, http://bit.ly/2heQYAu  or read it below. 

With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

’Twas the night before Hipstmas, when all through the flat,
Not a being was stirring, not even a gnat;
The leggings were hung by the chimney with care,
(Hand-knitted alpaca from wool traded fair);
The hipsters were nestled all snug in their futons;
On frames of limed oak — got a great deal from groupon;
Hipster chick in her keffiyeh, bloke in his beanie,
Both toasted from roasting hand-stuffed pulled pork weenies,
And making preserves from those damned sugar plums,
That hip friends would soon smear on sourdough buns;
(Artisanly-baked in a wood-fired stove,
With foraged birch twigs to leaven the loaves,
From a starter at least a hundred years old,
Bubbling and yeasty, a true bespoke mould);
When out on the patio arose a great clatter,
The hipsters both stirred, wondering what was the matter.
Probably just a drunk neighbour popped round for a natter,
And perhaps a chilled chardy with a camembert platter
‘It’s only 5am, you have come a bit early’
Said the bloke in his beanie, nudging his girlie
‘Hipstmas brunch doesn’t start until at least ten
Take some organic melatonin and sleep until then.’
But the clattering built to a rattle and hum
And some kind of engine’s low throbbing thrum;
So he sprang from his futon and threw up the sash,
While applying some salve to a purulent rash
(The price hipsters pay for a true Hipstmas feast
When they’ve only just found they’re allergic to yeast);
His vision was blurry, like peering through raindrops,
So he had a quick hit from his ethical eyedrops;
But the fantastical sight on the lawn was still there
A shimmering chimera lit up like a fair
The moon on the breast of the freshly scythed grass
Lent a lustre and glow through the fake leadlight glass
And what was it sitting there in the backyard?
Glimmering bright like a mirrorball’s shards?
‘Totes amazeballs,’ said beanie man to the keffiyeh
‘On our lawn is some dude in a flaming red Prius’
With a shiny tanned driver, all buffed up and slick
He knew in a moment he must be St Hip.
They could tell from the cut of his hand-distressed jorts,
And perched on his head was a trilby of sorts,
His shirt said something about A Bathing Ape,
As he smiled as sucked on his peppermint vape;
The dude leant on the pedal and revved up the engine,
Wound down the window, elbow on the ledge, and
striking a pose like some bearded brigand,
He peered over the top of his vintage Ray-Bans;
‘Yo Beanie Man, how’s it hanging, old son?
I come bearing gifts, in my Prius there’s tons
Of all the good things you need for your feast
And have you considered some gluten-free yeast?
Cos the rash is now spreading all over your face,
It’s really not cool, man, it’s not choice, bro, or ace.
Now, I can’t hang around in your fake spray-on snow
I’m St Hip, and I’ve got lots of hip places to go.
And hipster bitches to see, man, and all of them know
That I curate my own organic Scandinavian mistletoe.’
He grinned like a spiv as he popped open the boot,
His eyes, how they twinkled, his tan dark as soot;
His cheekbones were honed, his abs were well toned,
His beard looked like something Ned Kelly has loaned;
The roach of a joint was clamped tight in his teeth,
His skin was all shiny with Oil of Reef;
He spoke not a word as he bent to his work,
Heaving stuff from the boot with a clean and a jerk;
He filled up their leggings with fine hipster things,
Schnitzels and strudels all tied up with strings;
Moroccan couscous, hard cheese from Santorini,
Some big fat Greek yoghurt to smear on the weenies,
Some taramasalata and some baba ganoush,
And some smashed avocado on the buns for to smoosh,
And hand-packed in biodegradable cellophane,
Tiny plum puddings with handmade marzipan;
He gave them a smile and said ‘Merry Festivus’
As he climbed back inside the cherry-red Prius;
And he screeched out the driveway like a bat out of hell,
Leaving nothing but gifts and his patchouli oil smell;
And Beanie Man turned back to the keffiyeh,
And said: ‘This is totes the best Hipstmas eva!’

Monday, 28 November 2016

Hell on Two Wheels

My latest Home Truths column in The Australian, in which I discover riding a bike isn't just like, er, riding a bike. Here's the link to The Oz: http://bit.ly/2fYTRB1

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike. 
I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like.

Queen, Bicycle Race 

Well, thanks for nothing, Freddie. Some advice that turned out to be. I’m sure the immortal strains of Queen’s paean to pedal-powered transport were echoing in my head last week on a dark, stormy night as I coasted out of the office carpark on my gleaming new machine and my flashing red USB chargeable taillight slowly faded into the gloom. 

I’d only bought the damn thing two days earlier. With my half-century on this planet approaching like a fat-bottomed girl riding a fixie down the Alpe d’Huez and a recent fortnight in a hospital bed laid low with pneumonia, I had a mini-mid-life crisis. It was either buy a Porsche or get a bicycle and attempt to get fit after several years of indolence and a life-threatening illness. 

As I have no money and can’t afford a Porsche, the decision was an easy one. So off I schlepped to the local bike shop in Glebe and handed over $600 smackeroos (a Giant Cross City, for the bike tragics; a middle-of-the-road mountain/road bike hybrid designed, as its name suggests, to cross cities.)

Traversing urban expanses by bicycle is a perilous pursuit, and I don’t mean in the Velodrome sense. I last regularly rode a bicycle as a youth in Townsville. I can still remember the excitement of my 13th or 14th birthday, waking up to find a gleaming new dark green Speedwell racing bike with a ribbon tied round its tape-wrapped handlebars and a card affixed.

More memorable, though, later on that same birthday, sated with cake and drunk with the freedom conferred by my two-wheeled steed, was the jarring impact and hammer blow to my teenage pride and pimply dignity as, looking down, marvelling at the magic of the derailleur gears, I ran at a fair clip straight into the back of a parked panel van. 

“If it’s rocking, don’t bother knocking,” the sticker on its bumper said. “If you’re bleeding, don’t bother pleading” might have been more appropriate, as I scraped myself off the rough bitumen and wiped the claret out of my eyes. It’s funny the things you remember as you become living proof of Newton’s law of inertia. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, as a smug Reebok ad informed us, but they left out the corollary: Unless acted on by an unbalanced force. 

Pop quiz, bike dweebs: When the unbalanced force of a teen speed demon collides with the stationary mass of a shaggin’ wagon, the square on the hypotenuse equals:

a. the total surface area of road rash incurred
b. the number of individual bits of gravel to be plucked from your oozing flesh
c. the amount of buckle on your front wheel
d. all of the above  

It wasn’t my only crash. Later in my teenage cycling phase I would skid into a ‘Chinee Apple’ bush, a savage and racist shrub endemic to North Queensland, with bitter, bile-tasting fruit and covered in thorns an inch long. I also rode, on two separate occasions, into rose bushes (smaller thorns but just as pointy). 

It’s clear I’m an early adopter when it comes to two-wheeled smash-ups. My first proper ride on my new Giant was from my inner west apartment to the Surry Hills headquarters of this august organ. The commute to went off without a hitch. Unfortunately, not so much the fro, on the aforementioned dark, stormy and treacherously drizzly night. I came to grief on the designated bike path of The Goods Line, a poor man’s High Line, where hipsters can stroll where goods trains once trundled. Some well-intentioned idiot had, days before, I was informed while lying bleeding on the concrete, cleaned years of leaf litter and gunk out of the old train tracks, leaving a bicycle wheel sized slot to bring riders down to earth. 

Which is where I discovered another law - gravity. The forward motion of my bike ceased as the front wheel dropped into this perfect cyclist trap and that energy was transferred to my left hip, elbow and head, in that order. I went down so fast my head had bounced off the concrete with a crack like a rifle shot before I even realised I was having a prang. Praise the lord for compulsory helmets.

I still want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like, with the exception of anywhere within three metres of train tracks, thorny bushes or the rear end of stationary sin bins. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Breaking Bad on the Boardwalk Empire for The Wire's Mad Men in Peaky Blinders

Latest piece in The Australian, in which I out myself as a decadent and depraved television binge-watcher. Yo McNutty! Omar strollin' ...

My name is Jason and I’m a television binge-watcher. It has been six hours since my last tumble down the fibre-optic wormhole: half of Game of Thrones, season two, since you ask.

When season one of Game of Thrones was released I devoured the entire thing in one slack-jawed sitting, eyes glazed and unblinking like Malcolm McDowell getting a spot of Ludovico’s technique in A Clockwork Orange. I was late for an important meeting the next day, a waste of space warming a chair, occasionally muttering “winter is coming”.

I knew I’d hit my rock bottom and things would have to change. Night after night I’d find myself up until 3am or 4am, sometimes later, jabbing at the remote occasionally to fast forward the credits, just another Netflix narco flicking at the lever that supplies the dose, a Boardwalk Empire bonobo with Roku raccoon eyes, victim of some nightmarish experiment, skulking into work with a blue-screen burnt-in hangover of plot lines, ever vigilant for the merest hint of a spoiler.
The rot set in with 24, the Kiefer Sutherland vehicle where the contrivance of things unfolding in real time across 24 hours led to concentric circles of plot holes and convoluted twists until each season collapsed in a black hole of silliness and viewers were left shaking, twitching and rubbing their eyes, wondering what just happened. But 24 was just an appetiser, a loosener, a gateway drug to harder hits. I got truly hooked on the glowing cathode crack pipe of The Wire, the gritty five-season trawl through decaying Baltimore and its urban blight, with its street-smart, note-perfect writing, penned by a former cop and a journalist.

The Wire - The Greatest Show Ever, taught at Harvard and Duke - was a risk for HBO, a truly groundbreaking idea that dispensed with the pat TV ending forever, and instead sprawled out over each season with novelistic story arcs, characters who would appear briefly and bob back up seasons later, where even a quick bathroom break could rob you of some rich detail or plot point.

A season in a night? Sometimes I did more. Soon, you stop talking like a normal human and begin to inhabit the world of your obsession. When I was deep into The Wire, starting the whole thing again for the third or fourth plough through all five seasons (I eventually watched the whole thing five times), I mainly conversed in terms like “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit”, “Yo McNutty”, “Snitching Bubs!”, “Omar strollin” and “po-po”. Just writing this brings the old urges back and I have to restrain myself from doing the old Snot Boogie once more.

The flip side to losing yourself in a new world is the gaping void when the credits sound for the last time, a crushing, soul-sucking emptiness as reality closes back in and the real world reasserts itself. So you move on to the next series.

After The Wire I simply had to delve into The Sopranos, the series that started it all for the confirmed binge watcher (four times — just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in). I mainlined Mad Men (three times, gorging on the drink porn and period costumes, the genius casting of an unknown Jon Hamm as Don Draper, the light glittering through cut-crystal decanters and glowing amber liquor), dreamt of Californication, and I broke bad for the nihilistic Breaking Bad, where you could vicariously get high on meth as you began your binge, a double-whammy for the incipient addict. Better call Saul.

Strange and deviant behaviours begin to set in. There are few things more depraved than a man or woman in the depths of a Peaky Blinders bender. The nanny state should institute lockdown laws for late-night sofa loiterers who are ruining their lives and spiralling ever deeper into trouble. Never mind the one-punch, HBO and Netflix are a donkey punch to the body politic, an insidious menace in our midst and doubtless responsible for more lost productivity and shifty sickies than all the crack in Hamsterdam.

Ironically, five years after The Wire premiered in 2002, HBO released a series called Addiction, marshalling some of the hottest documentary filmmakers of their day to tackle the subject. They delved into the world of crack, booze, meth, smack and sex addicts. But they roundly ignored the addiction they largely created and continue to fuel. 

My name is Jason and I’m a television binge watcher. Until my relapse, I hadn’t binge-watched for three years. Last night, I paid to stream Game of Thrones, seasons two through six. God help me.

Burns Night turns into dark night of the soul for grumpy old man

Home Truths column in The Australian, in which a bit of Robert Burns leads to an existential crisis and a lousy turn as the Serial Killer of Glebe

O wad some Power the giftie gie us 
To see oursels as ithers see us! 
It wad frae mony a blunder free us, 
An' foolish notion: 

Robert Burns
To A Louse, On Seeing One On A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church

Never mind the Haggis. It’s the first two lines of the last stanza of Burns’s great equaliser that packs the knockout punch, nails the human condition and bears frequent repeating whenever one is in danger of developing airs and graces.
     It’s a perfect puncturing of ego, a skewering of delusions, a dousing of the bonfire of the vanities, and a delousing for swelled heads everywhere. It’s pure existential nitty dread. For nothing screams ‘unclean’ like a head full of lice and I still recall the appalled horror the first time the fine tooth comb was dragged through my flowing 70s primary school locks to reveal dozens of the wriggling translucent little ticks manque. 
     Some 200 years before that moment, the great Scottish bard is sitting in church when he observes a louse - an impudent, crowlin ferlie, plump and grey as any groset, struntin rarely over the gauze and lace of a fine lady’s bonnet. 
     I don’t make any great claims about my own Scottish roots, any more than I do about my Italian, Irish, English, French or Danish ones. But I have always felt an affinity with the strange, compelling and sometimes indecipherable verse of Burns, and not just on New Year’s Eve, soused with single malt and Auld Lang Syn. (I also felt an affinity with the early, brilliant works of Irvine Welsh, before he fried his brain and went silly. Between the weird words and abstruse vocabularies of the pair, I grew to understand the guttural utterances of my Scottish colleagues after moving to work in newspapers in Hong Kong).
    The immortal lines popped into my head the other day as i was striding (well, limping) along the high and low roads of Glebe, on a glorious, crisp, blue-skied spring day, feeling about as perky as a soon-to-be-50-year-old racked with assorted afflictions had a right to feel. There was a spring in my gimpy gait, a twinkle in my eye and a magnanimous smile twitching at my lips. If I had a Tam O-Shanter, I would have grabbed its big red pom-pom and doffed it to each passer-by. 
     But then the giftie gie’d me a big reflective plateglass window to glance into as I strunted past. And all of a sudden I saw myself as others no doubt saw me. My smile of goodwill was a twisted grimace, the twinkle in my eye a crooked, baleful squint (perhaps from the sun’s glare off the chrome bits of flotillas of designer prams the size of SUVs pushing to and fro), my greying buzz cut was textbook grumpy old man, and my stride was a herky-jerky hobble, a few stutter-steps removed from the legion of walking-stick wielders, the Robert Zimmerframes, Lean-hard Cohens and assorted poet laureates of pain, decay and decline. 
    The joy went out of my moment, squashed like a crawlin ferlie on the tip of a comb’s tooth. All I needed was a hook in place of one hand and a long black trenchcoat, and I could be the evil serial killer of Glebe. Perhaps little children already cowered behind curtains that twitched as I shuffled past. “Mum, look, it’s that weird old grumpy guy”.  
     I know what they did last summer. The hills have eyes. I consider dropping into the make-up effects store on Broadway to secure some props, grow into my role, still dazed at how my inner ebullience could outwardly manifest as a worn, torn fellow I barely recognized. 
    Since that day, for it never rains but it pours, Slife has been a litany of doctor, dentist and physiotherapist appointments, pipers due to be paid after ignoring their calls far too long. 
     We are all falling apart and hurtling towards the great unknown. The best we can do is keep our dignity, allow our pain and suffering to increase our compassion and understanding, and retain an ability to laugh at life’s absurdities, infelicities and great gaping injustices, while waving a middle finger in the direction of one’s higher power occasionally.
     Oh, and keep your hair clean, and your fine tooth comb handy. For as the great bard warns: 

O Jeany, dinna toss your head, 
An' set your beauties a' abread! 
Ye little ken what cursed speed 

The blastie's makin:

Spring brings ant army assault, amorous avians and randy pandas

Home Truths column for The Australian's Life page, in which the rites of Spring go seriously awry. 

Spring has sprung. And in the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ant poison and how to get rid of pigeons practising the kama sutra on the balcony. 
     Sorry, Lord Alfred Tennyson, but love is on the back-burner for now. My rites of spring began one morning last week, as I slowly stirred from my slumbers to become aware the floor was moving. “Ah that’s nice,” I thought, as i stretched luxuriantly and rolled over. Seconds later, I bolted upright, all thoughts of somnolence banished. I fumble for my glasses and the scene becomes clear. The floor isn’t actually moving, of course, but a motorised column of fat shiny and rather large black ants was streaming in from my bathroom, hup-two-three-ing around my bedroom and goose-stepping somewhere under my sofa. Somewhere in the column a barrel-chested sergeant-major ant was no doubt shouting: “I don’t know what you’ve been told. The best stale crumbs come with some mould.”
     Now, for a single fellow living alone, I thought I had been doing a creditable job of keeping my flat spic and span. But I’d clearly forgotten to clean under the sofa, and as I dragged it aside, the full horror was revealed. 
     Flakes of parmesan cheese, flecks of cold cuts, mouldy sultanas, pizza crust, random elements of myriad mueslis, slivers of chocolate and an Arnott’s Family Assortment of biscuit remnants, all served up with a light dusting of, er, dust. OK, a heavy dusting. A Watership Down of dust bunnies. But it doesn’t deter the ants from their 10-course tasting menu, and I briefly ponder scattering a few blobs of lemon sorbet on the floor as a palate cleanser. Word has clearly got out about this Formicidae smorgasbord south of my couch. I grab my iPad and find Rentokil’s site, where I ascertain they are almost certainly common black ants, famous kitchen scavengers also partial to some dog excrement and effective spreaders of salmonella. 
     As I read, they keep streaming in like there’s no tomorrow. Nor will there be. I’ve got nothing against the humble ant, as long as he stays in the garden, doing his invaluable ecosystem thing, returning everything back to ant poo. Come into my home, possibly covered in dog poo, to get all up in my shizness, and the gloves come off.  An invasion of this scale demanded a thermonuclear DEFCON4 scorched earth response, a blast of borax to the thorax, or something similarly noxious to Pink Panther the little blighters for good. Off to the corner store I trotted, returning armed with baits with complicated instructions (in Japanese only),  floor cleaner and some spray in case all else failed. 
    Two hours later, I have squished countless ants along the trail so the stench of fallen comrades will say “Abandon hope all ye who enter”. This strategy is compromised by my frantic mopping of the floor half a dozen times, replacing the dead ant tang with a forest fresh pine scent. I deploy the baits and resist the choking final solution of the aerosol. 
     The very next morning, I stir from sleep to hear a strange feathery shuffling sound in my bedroom. I had left the door to the balcony open to pick up some breeze. Instead I have a pigeon playa and his chick getting pige-y with it in my bedroom. And not just once, either. 
     A skewed deja vu sets in as I leap out of bed, waving my arms like a lunatic and screaming. The birds are gone in a flap of oily wings when I have a big idea. 
     I grab my K-mart pressed metal life-sized sulphur crested cockatoo ornament off the mantlepiece and perch it on the balcony at a menacing angle. Slightly bigger than life size, it does the trick and the pigeons do not return.
    I have faced worse beginnings to spring. My first year in Thailand, I suffered through an eruption of cockroaches like the scarab scene in The Mummy, a bristling red plague of ticks that covered my walls, and then a sneak attack by termites, who ascended to a second floor bookshelf and chomped through most of my vinyl record collection’s cardboard sleeves, all within the space of a few soul-scarring weeks. 
     The irrefutable proof that spring is here, however, is not daylight saving or the chirp of birds, but the publication of the season’s first randy panda story. In any case, spring is most definitely in the air, and right on cue comes the season’s first randy panda story. Right on cue, Adelaide Zoo’s star panda pair are getting ready to do the wild thing. Pandas are not nature’s porn stars, however; they rarely mate in captivity, can’t sign in to Tinder, and regard ‘eats, shoots and leaves’ as a dietary requirement not a notch on the cubbing den’s bedpost.  
     Male pandas are known for their relatively small penises, so one wonders what heartless handler would have come up with a name like Wang Wang, who as I write is doing handstands to pee higher into the bamboo the better to impress his putative panda mate, Fu Ni, who is bleating, chirping and indulging in water play, all good signs.  

       In the spring, a young panda’s fancy lightly turns to the pissing contest known as love. 

Kitchen ambition causes souffle apocalpyse

Home Truths column in The Australian, in which I find a souffle doesn't even rise once. 

“Just as the pangs of hunger struck, he came upon two people – one a sailor, the other a penguin – in the act of eating a pudding. But this was no ordinary pudding. It was a cut-an’-come-again pudding.”

Is there any Australian of a certain age who, upon finding themselves living alone and solely responsible for his own sustenance, hasn’t found themselves fantasising about The Magic Pudding? I must confess recently, after some disastrous attempts to exercise my vestigial culinary muscles, I have found myself lost in reveries of cut-and-come-again puddings; not the warty-looking, glowering bowl-headed character of Norman Lindsay’s much-loved children’s book, but elaborate sticky date affairs, glistening towers of creme brulee, rice puddings shimmering in an ocean of creme fraiche.
    It’s also a comfort food thing. As a teen growing up in Townsville (someone had to) the evening’s highlight was a packet Puffin Pudding for dessert, either a rich blueberry or a piquant lemon or a creamy butterscotch, heaped with vanilla ice cream, best consumed while watching The Kenny Everett Video Show, The Goodies or Doctor Who.
     It was in this narcotic haze of nostalgia and near sugar coma that I convinced myself it would be a worthy weekend project to attempt a souffle. I was filled with the false confidence of a short-lived teenage stint where I became obsessed with baking cakes, after my grandfather, Vincenzo, a fellow of Italian and French provenance with Frank Sinatra eyes, entrusted me with his secret sponge cake recipe that unfailingly won first prize every year at the Brisbane ‘Ekka’.
     Having mastered the humble but tricky sponge, I moved on to more ambitious cakes, vast cantilevered multilevel flans, great creamy fruit-encrusted confections, gaudy pavlovas that could have graced Liberace’s white baby grand.
    But like a misjudged sponge, I rose too fast. One afternoon, putting the finishing touches on my most elaborate creation yet to take to a party, a family argument began and in a hissy fit of teenage angst I smashed my cake to bits with my bare hands, never to bake again.
     Can a souffle rise twice? Not in my kitchen. In the annals of souffle disasters, this was a Challenger, an Exxon-Valdez, Soufflegate. Despite poring over the best advice of the legion of celebrity chefs on a recent Saturday afternoon, and arming myself with eye-wateringly expensive ingredients from Glebe’s finest artisanal organic gourmet deli supermarkets, my souffle collapsed into itself like a star in some distant galaxy going supernova and then turning into a black hole, leaving little but a molten gooey cheese-like compound and a burned crust I still can’t get off my best saucepan.
     In hindsight, it was a tad ambitious. Well, OK, it was hubris with a dash of arrogance, a pinch of blind optimism, a generous squeeze of futility and a light dusting of utter idiocy; Sisyphus trying to roll a thousand dung beetles up the north face of the Eiger.
    I should have started more humbly; a salad, perhaps, or a stir fry. A souffle is a dish known to trouble the best chefs — even the great Jacques Pepin has a souffle disaster story, in his case with a live TV audience of 2,500 people as witnesses. He whipped up his souffle and put it in the oven, which he failed to notice was set to self-cleaning, at a toasty 725 degrees.
      Pudding, incidentally, originally referred to savoury dishes. It comes from the French boudin, meaning “small sausage”, which might explain why the French have spent centuries overcompensating in the kitchen.
     Which brings me to my recent discovery of the ultimate low-maintenance meal for the modern singleton, the manna from heaven that is STAGG Chili. Most canned goods carry an implicit whiff of loneliness and loser-dom. Campbell Soup is dandy if you’re Andy Warhol but for the rest of us, it’s just salt in the psychic wound and a reminder that you’re not Jamie Oliver cheekily whipping up another perfect feast for a posse of braying hipsters with perfect skin, dressed by J Crew.
    Go STAGG and you’re a Rat Pack of one, a swinging single with places to go and people to meet. “Just one taste and you’ll fall in love with STAGG Chili. Made from juicy beef, succulent red tomatoes, jalapeño peppers and onions that will make your mouth water.”
     It might not be cut-an’-come-again but it does what it says on the tin.

Love me Tinder? Thanks but no thanks

This was the first in a new column I have started doing every second Monday for The Australian's Life page. It's called Home Truths. 

Sympathy for the Gerbil 
(With apologies to the Rolling Stones)

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of no wealth and poor taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Packed some love handles on my waist 

Pleased to meet you 
My pick-up lines are lame 
I don’t like pina coladas
And I don’t play video games. 

Consider the hamster. Watch his little legs fly as he gets that wheel spinning. Round and round it goes. When it stops. nobody knows. 
     From the outside, the brave new world of modern dating looks terrifying. A cross between a giant hamster wheel for humanity and a game of musical chairs. For a misanthropic social misfit and soon-to-be double divorcee like myself, it’s all about as appealing as a bucket of cold, congealing spew.
    Unfortunately, these days options seem limited in the love stakes. If you resist the lure of the apps and their promise of zipless hook-ups, how else might one meet the love of one’s life, or at least get a leg over? 
     I’ve never been one for the glib chat-up line and the mysterious, shy guy of hidden depths pose doesn’t seem like it would cut much ice in heartless, shiny Sydney. The idiots who recently pronounced it the world’s friendliest town must have confined their research to bright eyed, perfect-skinned teens in swinging backpacker hostels, without considering the lonely reality of the singleton creeping up on 50.
      Speed dating? Nah. It’s bound to be more start-up than hook-up, full of Bondi hipsters with bushranger beards and bow-legged Staffies to pull them about on their Malibu skateboards while they sip artisanal iced lemongrass chai organic lattes, cruising for linked-in connections and networking like mad. And that’s just the women. 
      I read recently in Fast Company that old school matchmakers are making a comeback in the hipper boroughs of New York City. People like Erika Gershowitz, of Three Day Rule, who prowls the pubs and clubs and tapas bars giving out cards and introducing herself. The outfit has six locations and 19 matchmakers, apparently.
      Three Day Rule clients get face time with the matchmakers who bone up on their preferences. They get fashion consultants, professional snappers for their profiles and best of all, someone else to do the actual dating for them. "Dating is a numbers game," says Gershowitz. "We essentially go on bad dates for people."
     Professional help, yeah, that might be the ticket, but I don’t think they have expanded to Sydney yet, and I can’t quite rid myself of images of Fiddler on the Roof, with some hook-nosed Barbra Streisand type skipping from shtetl to shtetl in her shawl, singing ‘Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch.”
      Ah yes. There’s bound to be a catch. And the matchmaker catch is a cool US$15,000 to a flat-out ridiculous $US250,000 for their ‘expert’ services.
     I even ventured recently to the Gympie Music Muster, which has developed a reputation over the years as a place where finding one’s significant other or at least a warm body for the night is like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel.
     Well, they must have rolled out the barrel when they heard I was coming, and rolled it right back in again. It muster been love .. if you look like you belong in the country and just stepped out of an RM Williams catalogue. 
    Because all the hooking up seemed to be confined to improbably tall and ridiculously fresh-faced young people, clad, to a man and woman, in Akubra hats, moleskin trousers and oilskin dryzabone cowpoke clobber. Now I can certainly appreciate the erotic potential, the frisson, the friction, not to say the frottage, of a well maintained oilskin or the velvety touch of the slightly frayed moleskin.
     But for an ageing cityslicker in a non-descript pullover and a plain black coat, it was strictly voyeurism only. As the achey-breaky, boot-scootin’ players got lucky, I just got colder and colder, as the mercury flirted with the lower single digits. The closest I got to some muster love was an involuntary threesome when the tallest, shiniest and face-suckingly, neck-lickingly smoochiest new hook-ups, both cowboy-ed up to the nines, their cuban heeled RMs adding extravagent inches to their towering, ramrod-backed physiques, marched backwards, lips in a death-lock or perhaps a kind of vacuum-sealed vapour lock, without breaking stride or seeing who might be in the way, ploughing a perfect row through the crowd, and driving their combine harvest of cowpoke passion right over the top of me. 
      I limped off back to my tent, cold, wet, and with what felt like a broken metatarsal, cured of any notion that the starlight, campfires and booze, not to mention the country and western music, might help me get off the one-way train to Singletown, where lonely singletons go to die, or at least be found in their flat weeks after the fact, half-eaten by the neighbours’ Alsatians. 
     So one day soon, it looks like I may have to enter the world of online dating, along with everyone else. According to a recent Pew study, almost half of the public knows someone who uses online dating or met their significant other that way. 
    Vanity Fair, in an in-depth look at online dating recently, commented on how the Tinder-like, swipe-for-love apps had reduced the search for love to something like Uber for sex. "You’re always sort of prowling," one charming twentysomething named Alex told the magazine. "You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger. It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”

      That sounds even worse than loneliness. So for now, Tinder remains on the app store shelf, and my love life remains a one-man bonfire of the vanities.